School’s out

Asperger’s syndrome is a recently recognised developmental
disorder within the autistic spectrum. It occurs predominantly in
people of average or above-average intelligence who have good
verbal skills which often mask their restrictions, making detection
and diagnosis difficult.

While the type and level of restriction varies between individuals,
there are constant characteristics which hold true for everybody
with the condition. Anxiety, difficulty with social relationships
and communication, narrow interests or obsessions and routines,
allied with a reluctance to accept change, are all a feature of

Young people with Asperger’s perceive the world very differently
from their contemporaries. They are often misunderstood, despite a
genuine desire to make social contact. They also have limited
concentration and perform better with a visual learning

The biggest problem that children with Asperger’s face is exclusion
from state-run schools. However, many of these lack the
understanding, culture and facilities to enable them to help these

Demand for special educational provision increased during the 1980s
and 1990s as more children went through the statementing

During the 1990s, the main policy for government and local
education authorities was to develop special units in mainstream
schools which provided day school facilities for children with
special needs. While this was highly successful for many children
with learning difficulties, it meant that several special day
schools and residential schools had to be closed down, resulting in
fewer adequate facilities for children with challenging behaviour.
At the same time, because children with challenging behaviour
tended to remain at home and go to mainstream schools, the
incidence of breakdowns at home increased, resulting in a rise in
the number of children looked after by social services

Today, the main reason special needs children are excluded from
schools is lack of appropriate funding. Because the allocation of
school funding is now based on a wide range of indicators, such as
how many children are excluded due to bad behaviour, some teachers
are transferring these children into special provision so that
their school’s performance appears to improve.

League tables based on examination results are another way to
increase funding. However, because many Asperger’s children don’t
perform well in exams, they can bring down the overall performance
of their schools – another reason for exclusion.

I became involved with Asperger’s in 1994 when I became head
teacher at Ravenscroft College, now known as Farleigh College. I
was informed that several children had dyslexia, but further
investigation revealed that they also had Asperger’s syndrome. This
highlighted the fact that the disorder can be hard to diagnose, and
reinforced the relatively recent increase in awareness of this

I run three residential specialist schools for children with
Asperger’s which integrate education, therapy and health care as
part of the daily routine. Farleigh schools are 100 per cent
publicly funded and we receive referrals from all over the

By focusing on the unique needs of children with Asperger’s it is
possible to create a framework that makes each child feel more
secure. People with the syndrome have a desperate need for routines
which give them time boundaries and help them to control their
environment. One way of achieving this is to ensure that each child
has a set daily routine underpinned by small classes which only
last for half an hour, and key staff who “live with” the children
on a daily basis.

Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that these children receive the
rounded education that provides them with the educational, social
and mental health skills to live independent lives. Unfortunately,
there aren’t enough schools able to provide this education. There
is an urgent requirement for a wider understanding of the
educational provision required for children with Asperger’s,
provision which fulfils their unique needs.

– For more details visit
or call 01373 475177.

Stephen Bradshaw is executive director of Priory Young
People’s Services.

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